The views expressed on this website are entirely my own and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

I like piña coladas & getting caught in the rain

After reading and re-reading my initial post multiple times, I realized I should probably explain and describe myself and why I can come to volunteer in the Peace Corps (among other things).

First of all, who am I? Well that's a very loaded question in itself, however I will try to answer it to the best of my ability. I am an Indian-American, born and raised in the U.S. with parents who immigrated here to provide a better life for me and my brother (who was born in Zambia). Growing up I was caught between two worlds, one at home where the cultural values of India were instilled upon me, most often not by my own personal choice, however eventually it was welcomed. The other, school, where I quickly learned fitting in was what one wanted to do and standing out was not fun. Books, TV, and movies were often my escape. I tried sports and dance classes, but often quit before I could really develop any sort of skill. I stuck with swimming and tennis for some time, but even those fell through. Reading and watching mindless television and movies seemed to stick (to my dismay). Through my Indian heritage I was exposed to not so mindless movies, such as DDLJ where the villian Amrish Puri tried to defeat the valliant and heroic Shahrukh Khan in winning over Kajol (something to that effect). I fell in love with the melodrama and the songs. Oh, and the beautiful costumes! From there I moved to more sophisticated books and movies, trying to be more selective in what I chose to melt my brain with. Soon it wasn't so much about escaping what I knew to be real, but to learn about reality itself. I read books that taught me about social justice, healthcare, and the way the mind works. I fell in love with psychology, art history, science, and even sports! This drove me to be more active in both research and application of the things I learned. It also helped me cement a passion for volunteering.

Throughout my education I have gravitated towards volunteerism and community. I love a sense of community and I love working, even without pay (SHOCK!), to help make that community a better place. I've volunteered at various places, mostly medical facilities (another shock!), due to my initial drive to become a doctor. After many years of failure and many hours of soul searching, I realized in the end I really just wanted to help people. So after graduating (from Mercer University) with a BS and 3 minors and still being rejected from medical school I came up with my own "back up plan" (oh, my father would be so proud). I signed up for my GRE's (a whole month before taking them), applied (on a complete whim) to USF COPH for my MPH in Global Health. It was the only school I applied to for 2 reasons:

1) I was still a Florida resident so I wanted to save $$$$
2) USF had the Master's International Peace Corps Program


I got in (I still don't know how THAT happened). Debated PC some more and realized it fit. It fit with what I wanted to do. Even if I didn't end up working in a real public health or health related field, I was still helping people (AND THIS TIME GETTING PAID!). Win, win, right?

So now, here we are, through the insane process and out the other end with an invitation and glory on my sleeve! Ok, maybe not glory, but happiness. I know, with all my fears about being alone for two years and dealing with animals of unknown shapes and sizes, I will still be happy. I can't wait to hang out with those cool little Ugandan kids who will surely refer to me as "bones" or "white girl" or some variation of the two.

*Another completely related note: Mercer Alumni can never seem to part (for lack of a better title to this story): Jake and I met through a mutual friend while attending Mercer and became friends ourselves. After I graduated and left the Mercer/Macon area, we lost touch. Through the powers of social media, I found out he was attending USF a year after I began my master's program. I got back in touch with him and we found out we were both going to volunteer in the Peace Corps after our coursework was completed. We have regained our friendship and after about a year of the application process to the Peace Corps, we both found out we were heading to the same country for service, Uganda. We will be heading to Uganda during the first week of August where we will begin our pre-service training for three months and then be divided to our individual sites. CRAZY, no?*


Monday, June 27, 2011

36 Days

After over 12 months, countless appointments, numerous signatures, stamps, and envelopes sent, I finally have a placement. Everything is set in motion for this to actually happen. My dream is actually coming true. The plan I had set forth many years ago has finally come to fruition. Now what? How am I supposed to prepare for "an experience of a lifetime"? Impossible!

Since I received my placement, there have been many reactions from friends, family, classmates, and my boss. Everything from "why the heck would you want to go there?"; "haven't you seen 'The Last King of Scotland'?"; "where is Uganda?"; "why don't you just get a job with USAID or WHO?"; etc.

My parents have been somewhere between supportive and scared. Initially they questioned my decision, numerous times. Throughout the application process there was always mention of a "back up plan" just in case this didn't work out. I never really understood why they held onto this idea of the plan not working out, but I brushed it aside, as I do often in regards to their misunderstanding of my career drive. When I was approved medically, the "back up plan" was mentioned again, however this time I had a suitable response. "I'm cleared medically, they shouldn't be rejecting me now!" This prompted still more inquiries as to a "back up plan" which I indulged, talking of a two month trip to India which would fulfill my educational requirements to get my MPH.

*On a completely related side note: I am serving in the Peace Corps as a community health volunteer in Uganda. I will be working on an HIV/AIDS, Malaria, and Nutrition project (why I felt I needed to capitalize all three components, I may never know). This 27 month service is to fulfill my International Field Experience and Special Project requirements which will complete my coursework for my Master's of Public Health degree at the University of South Florida, College of Public Health*

Now, where was I? Oh, yes, the "back up plan". Well, since I've been placed new inquiries were formulated. "How much do you get paid?"; "Is this really worth it?"; "You're taking a huge financial loss, aren't you?"; etc.

Somehow, all this never persuaded me to quit. Eventually, my parents became accepting and now very supportive of the idea. With the help of the Peace Corps texts and personal stories from return volunteers, my parents are happy and proud that I will soon join the ranks of the PCV! They were so happy, they spread the word across the Gujurati community in Orlando. While there were many questions and concerns, having my parents back me up is the best feeling. I feel that I am finally understood and making them proud.

Now, all I have to do is pack.